Irrigated growers and councils from Queensland's 'salad bowl' are calling on the state government to release untapped recycled water for a scheme that could generate $300 million for the economy and ensure water and food security.
The Lockyer Valley and Somerset Water Collaborative is recommending a scheme that consists of 297km of new pipeline to deliver 34,000ML of Wivenhoe Dam water.
Currently, groundwater is the dominant water source in the region and is accessed through a series of private bores located on individual farms.
The group's business case, which used $1.4m in state funds, states the project will cost at least $186 million, suggesting that $51 million comes from irrigators, $42 million from the state and $93 million from the Commonwealth.
Collaborative chair and former Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the regions were among the most fertile land regions in the world, yet many parcels sat under utilised because due to insufficient water.
"Growers, through the local water collaborative have produced a comprehensive business case to show how the scheme could grow our economy and return any investments made by government," Mr Quirk said.
"The first investment we need from government should be around enabling the project through the decision to provide recycled water - a resource that is already there and just needs to be released."
Lockyer Valley Regional Council Mayor Tanya Milligan said recycled water would provide an additional water source that could unlock the land and double production in the Lockyer Valley, and was a subject discussed with the federal agriculture minister recently.
"This scheme has been talked about for years, but now the detailed business case has clearly shown that an extra $300 million in economic benefit will be generated annually for Queensland and Australia. It's time to make it happen," Mayor Milligan said.
Collaborative member and Sutton Farms manager Brock Sutton said the scheme would create about 2600 new full-time jobs and had the potential to produce between $60 to $80 million in export earnings annually.
Troy Qualischefski, owner and manager of Qualipac, a major supplier of vegetables to the domestic and international markets, said the region's farmers had had a tough run with drought and floods and while not looking for a hand-out, believed government investment in water security infrastructure was vital in maintaining local food supply.
"It would be disappointing if we were importing produce that could be easily grown here if we had greater water security," Mr Qualischefski said.
Somerset Regional Council Mayor Graeme Lehmann says the land is there, the capacity is there and the know-how is there - it just needs water - and recycled water will provide the means of doing it.
Water Minister Glenn Butcher said the government had met with members of the collaborative, including Mr Quirk, local mayors and irrigators on several occasions, including earlier this year, to discuss the proposal.
"The Department ..., the Collaborative and Seqwater are working together to understand the implications of the proposal and the requirement for no negative impact on South East Queensland residents and businesses from the proposed project, including in relation to cost impacts and water security," Mr Butcher said.
He said the government had invested more than $3.4 billion in water infrastructure and planning since 2015 and would continue to do so where a plan stacked up.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.